FRIDAY, Aug. 7, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Screening children as early as second grade for symptoms of depression may help better identify those at risk later in life, a University of Washington study shows.
Even though about 80 percent of second graders in the study never developed more than a few symptoms of depression, the researchers identified five patterns of development of the mental disorder by following nearly 1,000 children through their elementary and middle-school years.
"We want to reassure parents that everyone, including children, may feel sad or depressed once in a while, but that doesn't mean they will go on to develop depression. We are trying to understand how depression starts and evolves in childhood so that we can develop interventions to help children," lead study author James Mazza, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, said in a university news release.
The study results, published online recently in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, are based on reports from teachers and parents and self-evaluations done by the children, primarily white residents of the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
"Some children are reporting that they don't have as many friends, feel lonelier and are more anxious than their peers," Mazza said. "They are telling us that they feel different from the typical happy-go-lucky second grader."
About 20 percent of the children were found to have a notable number of depressive symptoms in second grade, and about 9 percent of these had their symptoms continue or grow by eighth grade. The other 11 percent saw their number of symptoms rise until middle school, when they decreased.
About 54 percent of the second graders had no or few symptoms, but developed some or more by eighth grade. The remaining 26 percent started with no or few depressive symptoms and held at this level until middle school, the researchers found.
The study authors noted that behavior and attention problems tended to predict what pattern of depression a boy would develop, while anxiety at an early age was a risk factor for girls. The team also confirmed previous findings that girls tended to have more depressive symptoms than boys by middle-school age.
The Nemours Foundation has more about depression in children.